Self-harm is a significant issue among teenagers today. It can be difficult to determine the full scope of the problem due to the stigma surrounding it and its secretive nature, but recent studies have shed light on just how common it is. Let’s take a closer look at the prevalence of self-harm among teens today and explore potential solutions.
The latest stats on self-harm in teens
The 2020 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 9% of US high school students reported a suicide attempt in the past year. That figure was higher in girls than boys (11% in comparison to 6.6%). And a shocking 25.5% were non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native teens.
Self-harm, though, is not always done as an attempted suicide. As the American Psychological Association (APA) explains, non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) refers to people who cause themselves pain intentionally, such as cutting or burning their skin, but not with the goal to end their lives. About 17% of adolescents self-injured, as per a meta-analysis of 52 studies between 2005-2011, a significantly higher figure than adults (APA).
What causes teen self-harm?
Mental health conditions can contribute to teenage self-harm, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Social pressures are another important factor, such as peer pressure and bullying, as are family dynamics, such as divorce or neglect.
Additionally, certain risk factors may increase a teen’s likelihood of self-harming behavior. These include exposure to violence, having access to weapons at home, having a history of substance use or abuse, and (or) having a family history of mental illness or suicide attempts.
Common signs of self-harm
Self-harm can take many forms, from cutting oneself to burning or branding the skin. In some cases, people may also engage in picking at wounds or eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, as a form of self-harm.
Common signs that someone may be self-harming include wearing long sleeves even when it’s hot outside and isolating themself from friends and family. Another sign is physical evidence, such as scars or bruises that the teenager can’t explain away.
If you worry your teen or someone you know is engaging in self-harming behaviors, it’s important to support them without judgment or criticism. Let them know that you are here to support them in recovery and listen to them. Communicate that they do not have to suffer alone.
Provide space for the individual to talk about their feelings openly and let them express themselves without interruption or dismissal of their feelings. Encourage them to seek professional help too. Mental health professionals can provide adolescents with tools to cope with intense feelings.
These experts may recommend family therapy in addition to therapy solely for the teen. The goal of family therapy may include finding and eliminating triggers in the home, promoting healthy communication in the family and reducing stress in the home.
The expert can also offer additional resources for those engaging in cutting or other self-harm behaviors. A professional can work with the teen and family to stop the self-harm cycle.
How to help teens who self-harm?
Given the complexity involved with addressing this issue, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for tackling teen self-harm. However, there are some steps to help prevent it from occurring in the first place.
These include promoting healthy coping mechanisms for stress (e.g., exercise, mindfulness practices) and providing access to mental health resources for teens who need them (e.g., therapy sessions or support groups). Also, raising awareness about the signs and symptoms of self-harm is integral so parents and other adults can recognize them early on.
There also needs to be increasing access to helpful resources for those who need them most. These resources include crisis hotlines and suicide prevention programs.
Self-harm is an increasingly prevalent issue among adolescents today—one that society must not take lightly or ignore. At least not if we want to ensure that young people get the help they need as soon as possible.
Concluding words on self-harm in teens?
Understanding what causes teen self-harm and proactively taking steps toward prevention, rather than reactively responding after an incident has occurred, is crucial. We can make sure our teens have access to appropriate resources.
Providing access may prevent them from feeling that they don’t have anywhere to turn when struggling emotionally or mentally. In short: knowledge is power when it comes to preventing teen self-harm!